Hammersmith & Fulham council made headlines this week by cutting council tax bills by nearly 4% next year, in a move which will mean the borough has the third lowest council tax in the country.
This translates as just over £30 off a band D property, leaving an annual bill of £781.34. But how have the council achieved this in an era of cuts, cuts and more cuts? H&F say that combining children’s services, adult social care and library services with neighboring boroughs Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea will reduce management and overhead costs by 50%, saving taxpayers £33.4 million over the next four years.
Here's a breakdown of the savings from H&F's website:
- Tri-borough: £3.2m
- Increased income from sponsorship, advertising, and enforcement (parking charges are frozen): £5.5m
- NHS contribution towards provision of Adult Social Care: £3.0m
- More efficient procurement/Commissioning: £3.6m
- Improving customer access (making sure more services are available online, thus reducing transaction costs): £1.6m
- Other reductions in staffing and management costs or increased productivity: £1.58m
- Continuing to reduce the number of children in care through fostering, adoption or other preventative work: £0.6m
- Transforming/rationalising the provision of financial advice and accounting services: £0.5m
- Introduction of social enterprise/mutuals to run school improvement service and some traded services: £0.15m
- Reduction in communication costs: £0.1m
£500,000 could also be saved every year by the sale of Fulham Town Hall which, according to reports, is the subject of an 'international scramble' to buy it. The move would reduce the burden of maintaining the Grade II listed building at the taxpayer's expense. H&F is also intending to freeze parking charges, keep all the borough's libraries open, maintain weekly refuse collections and the town centre will benefit from an extra £1.3 million for policing. That's a nice Christmas present, isn't it?
Not everyone thinks so. Labour MP for Hammersmith Andy Slaughter has criticised H&F for planning to sell off the College Park Community Centre (amongst other properties), saying that no alternative has been offered to the community groups who use it. Councillor Stephen Cowan also cites hiking parking costs, wasting £35m on a planning scheme for Hammersmith Town Hall and highly-paid senior council officials.
A further £250,000 was wasted when a computerised lighting system failed in 2005, meaning that the council were unable to turn off the lights in their town hall extension, and officials rejected a proposal to install light switches on a cost basis. That's a fairly big 'oops' right there, not to mention a sizeable leccy bill. A whole new meaning to the phrase 'keep the lights on'? HFConwatch highlights other criticisms; £7,000 on a leaving party, for example.
The council-tax cuts are accompanied by the news that H&F council leader Stephen Greenhalgh is stepping down. Councillor Greenhalgh says:
'We are leading the way in sound financial management which has led to lower tax bills, lower debt and better services. Part of that prudent management involves sharing services and management costs across borders. This ensures that we have the very best people doing the job. Whilst the cost of living continues to rise, we are proud to be putting money back in the wallets of our local taxpayers and we are proud to be protecting frontline services.'
Do you live in the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham? Tell us in the comments what the council tax reduction means to you.
Update: Hammersmith and Fulham council have asked us to point out that in fact they would save £500,000 rather than raise that amount by selling Fulham Town Hall as originally stated in paragraph 3. We have corrected this typo.